Rabu, 30 Desember 2015

Evangelism Isn't as Scary as You Think It Is

Evangelism Isn't as Scary as You Think It Is

Matt Smethurst

Evangelism Isn't as Scary as You Think It Is "Preach the gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words."
This classic quote, misattributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, is both clever and catchy. It just isn’t biblical.
Evangelism—communicating the good news of King Jesus—always requires words. As believers we are called to “adorn” the gospel with our actions (Titus 2:10), to be sure, but our actions are not themselves the gospel. No amount of righteous living can replace the necessity of verbally proclaiming God’s saving achievement in Christ.
But even though all evangelism involves sharing the same message, not all evangelism occurs in the same manner. Here are three kinds[1] we see modeled in the New Testament.
1. Family Evangelism
God intends gospel proclamation to take place within Christian homes as parents raise their children “in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Children of believers, then, are specially set apart as “front row” witnesses to and beneficiaries of the positive influences of the gospel (1 Corinthians 7:14).
The practice of family evangelism is pictured in the life of Paul’s protégé Timothy. “I am reminded of your sincere faith,” the apostle writes to him, “which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). Timothy’s faith in Christ first bloomed at home, thanks the witness of his grandma and mom. (His dad, Luke tells us, wasn’t a believer.) Paul goes on to exhort Timothy:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:14–15)
By God’s grace, Timothy could not remember a time in his life when he wasn’t acquainted with the Scriptures and their saving power.
2. Friendship Evangelism
Jesus was accused of many things, one of which was being “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34). Not a stranger, not a passerby, not an acquaintance—a friend. The Son of God came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10), and he did so in the context of authentic relationships. Paul, too, modeled such “relational” or “friendship” evangelism:
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. (1 Thessalonians 2:7–8)
The apostle is emphatic that his team’s ministry in the city of Thessalonica wasn’t some hit-and-run gospel invasion. They were happy to stay, to build friendships, to share their lives.
Friendship evangelism can be a beautiful thing—so long as the friendship doesn’t crowd out the evangelism. It’s very easy to build relationships with unbelievers in the name of gospel witness without ever getting to gospel witness. Intentionality, therefore, is crucial. As Matt Chandler has aptly quipped, “So, relational evangelism? Go for it, as long as it turns into actual evangelism.”
3. Contact Evangelism
The final (and least popular) type of evangelism involves initiating gospel conversations with those you’ve never met. When I was in college, my campus ministry would often gear its outreaches around this approach—always a surefire way to get eye-rolls from the “friendship-evangelism-only” crowd. Contact evangelism, they insisted, is cold, impersonal, even deceptive.
Anything can be abused, of course, so contact evangelism can certainly become unloving and unhelpful. But it doesn’t have to be. In fact, this form of evangelism is explicitly modeled in Scripture too.
In John 4 Jesus strikes up a conversation with a woman beside a well. Not only was she a complete stranger, she was someone Jesus “should have” avoided since she was both a woman and a Samaritan (double no-no). Nevertheless, he goes out of his way to meet her and deliberately turns their “natural” conversation about water and thirst into a “spiritual” conversation about himself. He didn’t waste much time, either, moving from “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:7) to “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would’ve asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10) in the span of only three verses.
Jesus’ witnessing strategy here is not some New Testament anomaly. The earliest Christians also engaged in contact evangelism:
Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, [the apostles] never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. (Acts 5:42)
On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. (Acts 16:13)
[Paul] reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. (Acts 17:17)
The earliest Christians were apparently willing and eager to initiate gospel conversations with “random” persons, with strangers—with whomever God’s sovereign will led them to encounter (Proverbs 16:9; 20:24).
If the danger in friendship evangelism is never getting to the evangelism, the danger in contact evangelism is not caring enough to remember the person’s name. We aren’t manipulators, and we don’t work in sales (2 Corinthians 2:17). Effective contact evangelism, then, requires a healthy dose of social awareness, common courtesy, and authentic love and concern.
Deployed to Be Deliberate
People need to hear the good news about Jesus Christ, and there is no one-size-fits-all prescription for how that has to happen. It just has to happen.
Whether we’re hoping to witness to a child, to a friend, or to a complete stranger, may the Holy Spirit grant us the courage to live lives of gospel intentionality—humbly and prayerfully seizing opportunities to speak of our great Savior.

Matt Smethurst serves as associate editor for The Gospel Coalition. He and his wife Maghan have two children and live in Louisville, Kentucky, where they belong to Third Avenue Baptist Church. You can follow him on Twitter.

Why Pop Culture Is Obsessed with 'Identity'

Why Pop Culture Is Obsessed with 'Identity'
Image: Mark Allen Miller
Last spring, after seven seasons of women, work, two wives, and a lot of whiskey, Don Draper reached the end of his journey to define himself. And a record 3.3 million Americans settled in to watch how it would end.
The broad appeal of Mad Men was surprising, given that the show’s protagonist—an affluent, straight, white male working on 1960s Madison Avenue—epitomized everything that social media pundits critiqued in 2015. From Oscar speeches to countless thinkpieces, from Jane the Virgin to Orange Is the New Black, the entertainment buzzword was diversity. The discussion about an industry still dominated by straight, white, male creators and characters often got heated, paralleling tensions over race and gender in American culture. Comedy-sketch shows like Inside Amy Schumer and Key & Peele satirized debates, suggesting pundits and politicians were missing the point, while the rest of us posted the clips online en masse.
Yet if we are trying to read pop culture circa 2015, Don Draper is actually a near-perfect decoder ring. His story embodies two current and contradictory obsessions: one, we celebrate each person and suggest all people have equal value; two, we elevate geniuses—individuals who possess abilities that far exceed what any of us can imagine—to godlike status. In 2015, we championed diversity while also worshiping super-competent protagonists, from superheroes to cops with uncanny powers to people who are simply extremely good at what they do.
But a few popular releases portray a healthier view of both diversity and genius, with Don Draper as our guide.

Finding the 'Authentic Self'

Born Dick Whitman, Don was raised in a whorehouse, a secret that profoundly

11 Resolutions Everyone Should Consider Making Next Year

11 Resolutions Everyone Should Consider Making Next Year

New Year's resolutions you'll actually want to keep.
We’ve all done it: Made resolutions to work out regularly, to stick to a budget, to eat better. Those are all great goals. And they can pay off if we stick to them. But the thing about strict resolutions is that when we break them, it can feel like we’ve failed, and it becomes easy to ditch them altogether.
That’s why we’ve created this list of 11 New Year's resolutions that everyone should consider making in 2016. These aren’t just based on do’s and don’ts, but small habits that can make a difference in our lives—even if we don’t do the best job of always sticking with them (see No. 7).

To Spend More Time in Conversations that Matter

Too often, days at a time can go by with the conversations we have with our friends, family members and co-workers going no deeper than surface-level chit-chat. Though there’s nothing wrong with joking around, theorizing about the latest episode of Serial or strategizing about fantasy football, if we’re not intentional about regularly engaging in deeper conversations—that challenge us intellectually, spiritually and socially—too often, those types of talks can become increasingly rare.
Complaining about something can offer momentary relief from frustrations, but working on solutions to the problems in our world can actually fix the things that are broken.

To Complain Less and Do More

We’re all guilty of it from time to time: We see something broken—in culture, the Church, the government, in our own personal relationships—and our first instinct is to vent about it instead of thinking of ways we can help change it. Complaining about something can offer momentary relief from frustrations, but working on solutions to the problems in our world can actually fix the things that are broken.

To Spend Less Time Worrying

Any time spent worrying is time wasted. It’s also counterproductive. As author and activist Corrie ten Boom said in The Hiding Place, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength."

To Pray More

It’s easy to pray less when we have lots of things to do, but really, life should work in the opposite way. As Martin Luther once said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” No matter how busy we become, committing to spend more time praying—even if it’s during our commute, when we’re working out or throughout our day—is a key to growing spiritually.

To Listen to More New Music Every Week

With the rise of platforms like SoundCloud, NoiseTrade, Spotify and Pandora, keeping up with new music releases has never been more involved. But it’s also never been easier to find new artists and get introduced to songs you’ve never heard. Next year, consider making even more margin to check out innovative music and the artists who are shaping culture.

To Cut Others Some Slack

In the social media era, where everyone’s opinion gets a platform, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of getting angry at our friends over things they say that we don’t agree with. Unfortunately, many times, that same mindset of taking offense at dumb stuff people say or do creeps into real-world relationships, the Church and workplaces. The thing is, most of the time, outrage is overrated. In 2016, commit to be offended less and reserving your anger for issues that really matter.

To Cut Yourself Some Slack

We’ve all been driven to try to accomplish things but ended up falling short. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all failed. The good news is, God doesn’t expect perfection from us, and we shouldn’t expect it from ourselves. Next year, when you mess up, drop the ball or let people you care about down, do what you can to make it right, but be quick to move on and show yourself the same grace you extend to others.
Though being able to take a stand for what you believe is an admirable trait, so is listening to the other side and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

To Read More Good Books

In a letter to a friend, C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Clearly, one must read every good book at least once every 10 years.” Considering that there are thousands of “good” books to choose from, Lewis’ advice doesn’t seem all that practical, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful. No matter how much time you currently spend reading, there is even more potentially life-changing wisdom in the pages penned by some of humanity's great minds. All you have to do is take the time to read it.

To Challenge Our Own Presuppositions More Often

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Just take a look at recent news headlines, ongoing current events and debates in the Church, and it’s clear to see that we live in polarizing times. Though being able to take a stand for what you believe is an admirable trait, so is listening to the other side and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Even if we don’t end up changing our position on an issue, questioning our own long-held presuppositions doesn’t just serve to challenge our beliefs—it can actually strengthen them.

To Spend Less Time on Your Phone

When you reflect back on 2016 this time next year, you probably won’t remember your new Candy Crush high score or that listicle of things you didn’t know about the cast of Boy Meets World. Even if you’re not a full-fledged app addict, in the era of the iPhone, we can all use a little less time looking at screens, and more time enjoying the people and places around us.

To Share More Meals with People You Care About

We’re all busy. And, the reality is, a lot of times it’s just more convenient to go to the drive-thru, eat lunch at your desk or use dinnertime to catch up on some Netflix. There’s nothing wrong with doing this every once in a while, but when eating on the run becomes a lifestyle, you end up depriving yourself—and others in your life—of moments that could be used to build deeper relationships.

Senin, 28 Desember 2015

Transitioning to Middle School

Transitioning to Middle School

My first day of middle school stands out clearly in my mind. My family had just moved from the city to a farm, and I didn't know anyone. I scanned the gymnasium full of tweens sporting blue jeans, plaid shirts and brown-sack lunches, and I suddenly felt awkward standing there in my Raggedy Ann jumper and holding my bright orange lunch box. If the most important rule of middle school is "don't stick out," then my middle-school days had obviously gotten off to a bad start.

New challenges

A child's promotion into middle school often precipitates a season fraught with fear. Kids may worry about getting lost in a bigger building, sitting alone in the cafeteria, not finding friends or carrying a heavier academic load.
In addition, this new season requires children to become more independent and responsible. For the first time, students must juggle separate classes and assignments and deal with a variety of teachers who have diverse teaching styles. These changes can seem overwhelming.
Parents often wonder how to equip their tweens to make a successful transition into middle school. Empathetic encouragement is essential. Don't downplay your child's fears or shrug off her concerns; on the other hand, there's no need to share all of your middle-school horror stories, either. Be honest but encouraging with your child about the changes ahead.

Game plan

You may find some of these strategies helpful as your tween moves into middle school:
  • Before classes begin, tour the building with your child. Help him find his classrooms and locker, and give him time to open the lock if it is built into the locker. This will help alleviate the fear of becoming lost or not being able to get into the locker.
  • Teach your child organizational skills. Help her set up an after-school routine and study environment that will make it easier to keep up with homework assignments.
  • Create a strategy for the lunch hour. The middle-school social scene can be very cliquish — and the lunchroom especially so. To help your tween avoid the painful experience of eating alone, encourage him to make plans in advance by asking a friend to sit with him. Better yet, urge your child to introduce himself to another student and initiate a lunchtime conversation.
  • Oversee a healthy diet and the additional rest needed to strengthen the growing body and mind. A tween is better able to deal with stress and change when she's healthy and well-rested.
  • Encourage your child to get involved in extracurricular activities, which can defuse stress, build self-confidence and help him make new friends.
  • Be open to tween fashions that may ease your child's fear of sticking out in school. You may think the latest fad looks sloppy or silly, but as long as your child's clothes are not immodest, there's nothing wrong with outfits that help her feel more confident. Save your battles for something bigger than blue jeans.

Wise investment

In the Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide, Dr. James Dobson writes, "We, as adults, must never forget the pain of trying to grow up and of the competitive world in which many adolescents live today. Taking a moment to listen, to care and to direct such a youngster may be the best investment of a lifetime."
Change doesn't have to be overwhelming, and the transition into middle school can be a great opportunity for parents to invest in their tween. Enjoy the adventure as together you face the world that lies between childhood and the teen years.

Two Guiding Words For Pastors

Two Guiding Words For Pastors

Men talking in coffee shop
by John McGee
I’ve always been intrigued by people who say they have a word for the year. You know the people I’m talking about – every year they have some big action word like “excellence” or “expansion” to guide their year. When I hear someone talk like this, I always feel left out because I don’t have a word for the year, and worse, I’m not even sure where to go if I wanted one. I’ve wondered if there’s a book of power words that I don’t know about, an unlisted blog they’re reading that I can’t find, or a Twitter account that spits out these words so people can pretend they came up with them to impress the rest of us.
Unfortunately, I’m still on the outside looking in when it comes to this phenomenon, but over the last year I’ve felt impressed to try and be two things: faithful and helpful. When I think about being faithful I think about Luke 16:10 and being faithful in little things first. Being helpful is along the lines of 1 Peter 4:10 where I’m supposed to use whatever gifts I have to help others.
Faithful and helpful don’t seem nearly as powerful as some of the other words I’ve seen others order their lives around, but it’s been an incredible benefit to keep both in the forefront of my mind.
Here are few things I’ve noticed as I’ve pursued faithfulness and helpfulness:
When I’m simply trying to be faithful, I find I don’t worry about “How many were there?” I find I sleep better, regardless of numbers.
I’m more creative.I find as I pursue faithfulness that I don’t worry about numbers and success. This gives me more brain space, and new thoughts, illustrations, and ideas seem to flow.
It has helped me slow down.When I don’t have to generate endless activity in an attempt to prove my significance, I can simply give myself fully to the things that God seems to have given me to do rather than always asking, “What’s next?”
It has freed me from trying to be significant.When I’m trying to be helpful, I don’t have to impress people; I can simply look for ways to serve them.
I’m present with others.When I’m trying to be helpful to someone, I can be fully engaged. I don’t have to worry about impacting them, and I’m free to simply help them.
Trying to be faithful and helpful is freeing me from striving for significance. If I’m striving for significance, I ride the emotional roll coaster when I think I have it and when I think I don’t. Not only does the nauseating ride impact me, it negatively impacts my ability to simply be with people without agendas or needs for outcomes.
So what about you? Where is your focus today? If your goal is significance, you’ll probably end up using people and feeling empty because you aren’t significant enough. You also won’t be able to present and enjoy your pastoral work because you’re worried about how you can be more important.
Try this: In the next few weeks, simply ask God to allow you be faithful and helpful. Experience tells me you’ll have more peace and a greater capacity to love, and you’ll also have more fun being a pastor!

Sabtu, 26 Desember 2015

How to Deal With a Joy Thief

How to Deal With a Joy Thief

by Jamaal Williams
Jesus is all about His people’s joy. As He told His disciples in John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” A disciple experiences the joy of the Lord as he or she abides in Christ and allows his word to abide in them. C.S. Lewis once powerfully penned, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” Yet, unfortunately, joy isn’t always the serious business of professing Christians. There are some Christians whose joy tank seems to be perpetually low if not empty. Unfortunately, they don’t heed the words of the scripture which tells us to, “Do all things without grumbling or questioning.” Some Christians believe that their spiritual gift is fault-finding and “keeping the pastor humble.”
Perpetual joy thieves are joyless because they’re not walking in obedience. Perhaps one preacher said it best, “If you have no joy, there’s a leak in your Christianity somewhere.” So what is a joy thief? A joy thief is a person who is perpetually pessimistic, and unhelpfully and unabashedly critical. They’re the types of people that you have to get “pumped up” to spend time with because you know that you will be reminded of everything that’s wrong with you, the church, and the world. Here are three practical things that you can do to deal with a joy thief in your church:
Get to know them
Perhaps the person who steals your joy is a genuine disciple of Jesus that struggles with hope. It could be that they’re processing the world through a negative lens because they’ve experienced great suffering, and rather than learn to count it all joy they’ve heaped up reasons to be joyless. Spending time with a person and getting a better understanding of what makes him or her tick may allow you to be more compassionate toward them. It may also help you identify the best angle to use in approaching them. I know it’s difficult to get close to a person who is constantly swinging a verbal sword at you, but put up your shield of faith, and give knowing them your best shot.
Pray for them
Joyless people are miserable people. They haven’t tasted and seen that the Lord is good. They haven’t yet learned that it’s through our times of suffering that the Lord often does his best work. I have been in a joyless place, and chances are you have, too. Nehemiah 8:5 says that the joy of the Lord is our strength. Without Him, a person doesn’t have true strength. They may think they do and put on a strong facade, but they are weak.
  • Pray that the Lord would rescue them from nihilism and give them hope.
  • Pray that the Lord (if he hasn’t yet) would bring them into the saving knowledge of Jesus.
  • Pray that the Holy Spirit would give you the patience and wisdom to interact with them graciously.
  • Pray that the Lord would cultivate in them deep gratitude for the things that He has and is doing in their life
  • Confront them Biblically
    Third, confront the person biblically. Confronting people biblically means that we confront them in the way that Matthew 18:15-18 and Galatians 6:1-5 command. That is, we confront the professing Christian alone, then with 2 or 3 witness, and if all else fails, then we take it to the church. This of course must be done in gentleness as one flawed Christian approaching another flawed Christian. Why is this important? Because the church is the one place in the world where people should be able to come together and experience the joy of the Lord. Joy thieves hinder God’s people from rejoicing in the Lord always. Augustine once said, “When large numbers of people share their joy in common, the happiness of each is greater because each adds fuel to the other’s flame.” It’s our responsibility to see that our members share a common joy.
    Pastors, God has called us to be joyful. In fact, I would argue that our goal should be to be the most joyful person in our congregation. Sometimes we’re our own joy thief because we’re too hard on ourselves and set unrealistic expectations. There’s an old gospel song that says, “This joy I have, the world didn’t give it to me, and the world can’t take it away.” Let’s not let anyone steal our joy, especially ourselves. Remember, “joy is the serious business of heaven.”

Kamis, 24 Desember 2015

Constructive Praise

Constructive Praise


parents praising child
Confidence is earned, not bequeathed.
That truth is supported by a wealth of recent research about children. Scientists are discovering that when kids get overpraised — when their parents affirm successes out of all proportion to reality — the child inevitably pays for it. Consider a few everyday examples:
“Yeah, you struck out. But the pitcher cheated!” to a kid struggling to figure out which end of the bat to hold.
“You made an A on the test! You’re the smartest kid at school!” to a child who knows exactly where she stands on her class’s intelligence spectrum — and it isn’t at the top.
“You deserve to be the lead in the play!” to a child who is in awe of the acting ability of classmates who got the lead roles.
When kids get overpraised, they know at some level that the praise isn't based on reality. So they develop a fear of taking risks and of failing. They have not yet developed the capacity to think, I know what I’m capable of and what to do when I come to a situation beyond my capability. Instead, they overflow with anxiety and shame, and often stop trying at all.

Confident kids

Kids need confidence to win at life, and lots of it. But the path to genuine self-confidence is a history of success. When a child can look back at 20 track meets that went well, or a series of successful school projects, they begin to feel confident. And they should.
Confident kids don’t have to talk themselves into “I can do this.” They know they can because they've already done it.

The art of praise

Praise is an important part of parenting. But we sometimes praise our children in ways that can actually harm them. Praise that seems positive — such as praising things that take no effort, or praising tasks that are required of our child — can cause problems. When these patterns of praise become overall trends, parents risk fostering attitudes of entitlement in their children. Consider the following suggestions for using healthier praise, praise that will contribute to building resilience and confidence in your children: 
• Praise what takes effort. Rewards and praise are most effective when they focus on an achievement that took time and energy. Usually, when praise is most effective, that achievement would involve a child’s character or internal makeup. But praise for what takes no effort can be unhealthy. To repeatedly praise a little girl for being pretty puts her in a bind. What she hears is, "What gets me loved is something I can’t do much about." She also hears, "My inside isn’t important, just my outside."
Consider how that little girl would feel if instead she heard, “You work really hard at school.” Now what quality is receiving the praise? Her diligence, which she can do a lot about. Although looks fade over time, character will not. This girl's character will grow and blossom and become even more beautiful her entire life.
• Praise the extraordinary. Praise should be reserved for those times when a child stretches himself beyond the norm, puts some extra effort or time into a task or exceeds expectations. It’s not about doing the minimum, the expected. As a child grows older, he'll recognize that no one gets a party for showing up to work on time. Jesus put it this way: “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’ " (Luke 17:10).
• Praise with specifics. “You're amazing!” “You're so smart!” “You’re so awesome!”
Our culture is awash in exaggerations that have roughly the same value as an empty calorie. Both yield insignificant benefits. I like to say that the brain has "buckets" where different information goes. Praise should always go in the correct bucket: the bucket of hard work, being kind, being honest or being vulnerable. But the brain has no appropriate bucket for nonspecific, excessive statements, and is unable to make constructive use of them.
I once praised my family this way, until I realized that this type of praise was just a shortcut. It takes little effort to speak such phrases, and I could say these things to my wife, my kids or a fence post. It didn’t really matter which. It requires effort to observe and relate to a child about a particular praiseworthy behavior or attitude — maybe a specific test or project a child succeeded at, or that extra measure of effort she put into a race or difficult musical piece.
Avoid praising to create a special identity. Every child needs affirmation when he has done well in class, at a hobby or in a sport. That is why competition can be healthy. The message should be, “You are good at what you do.” But when the message crosses the line to, “You are a better person than others because of what you do,” or, “You deserve special treatment,” trouble results.
As a parent, the right message is, “Great job on defense in the soccer game! You worked hard with your team and your individual plays were excellent. Now go and help the coach pick up the equipment.” Top-tier executives, college students, managers and athletes all have to stand in line. Keep in mind that while your child may be better in ability, she is no better intrinsically. In the eyes of God, she is no better than anyone else, as the Lord is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34).
• Keep praise based on reality. One of the saddest things I see encouraging parents do is to give a child hope in an area even though no real basis exists for that hope. Buoyed by comments such as, “You can do anything you want to,” a child might spend years and all of his energy in traveling down a path that is simply wrong for him. Consider the current crop of talent competition shows, such as "American Idol" and "The Voice." In the early rounds, there are always young people who have undoubtedly been overpraised and never gently told they have limited singing talent. The judges will be the first ones to give them a dose of reality — and that reality often proves to be devastating. It is much better for parents to encourage both dreams and hard work, while helping their child deal with reality. This difficult balance is a mark of great parenting.
Dr. John Townsend is a best-selling author, psychologist and organizational consultant. His most recent book is The Entitlement Cure: Finding success in doing hard things the right wayIf you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Thriving Familya marriage and parenting magazine published by Focus on the Family. Get Thriving Family delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.

Understanding the Differences Between You and Your Spouse

Understanding the Differences Between You and Your Spouse


husband and wife laughing together
"At least tell me what you're thinking!" I pleaded.
Without meaning to, I had disparaged hours of effort my husband, Jeff, had invested in a project with the kids. We were at odds, and it had escalated into painful words and hurt feelings on both sides. Jeff was heading for his basement workshop with me following behind, worried about the relationship and desperate to keep him from withdrawing.
Frustrated, he grabbed the handle to the basement door. "I don't know what I'm thinking!"
How can you not know what you're thinking? I wondered.
Fighting back tears, I felt shaky and in need of reassurance. Sure, I had a strong personality and sometimes didn't realize how my words were coming across — but why was Jeff letting that bother him so much? He was a strong and confident guy. If he kept pulling away, what did it say about how much he cared about me?
I had fallen into a common trap that ensnares millions of marriages: failing to recognize the differences in the way God designed men and women. Differences that He intended for good all too often divide us because we don't know they exist — or we don't see them as legitimate.
Men and women are equal in the sight of God — but that does not mean that we are the same. God created men and women to be different, and one key to a great marriage is to work with His design rather than against it.
In the years that followed those early marital conflicts, I started researching men and women for my books. Not only did I see these key truths staring up from my surveys, but I also saw how understanding them was dramatically changing my own marriage. Four revelations in particular have transformed things for Jeff and me — and maybe will for you, too.

Different insecurities mean that different things hurt us.

I was shocked to learn that my confident-looking, accomplished husband was vulnerable on the inside — and that his insecurities were different from mine.
According to my surveys, the doubt that lives inside most women (about 80 percent) sounds like this: Am I loveable? Am I special? Would he choose me again? This insecurity asks: Am I worthy of being loved for who I am on the inside?
The doubt that lives inside most men (about 75 percent) sounds quite different: Am I able? Am I adequate? I want to be a great husband (or father or businessman), but am I? This insecurity asks: Am I any good at what I do on the outside?
Because these vulnerabilities are like raw nerves, husbands and wives can unintentionally cause pain to each other.
For example, a wife returning from a weekend retreat asks her husband, "Why did you take the kids for doughnuts on Saturday morning — in their pajamas?" She doesn't realize that to her husband, her question sounds like, "I think you're a lousy dad." Or a husband needing space from a conflict heads to the gym (or his basement workshop) and doesn't realize that, to his wife, his response feels like he's saying, "You're not worthy of being loved."
Neither of those feelings is accurate, but it still hurts. Also, the spouse causing the pain often doesn't understand why such a "little thing" would bother his or her mate.
When we become aware of these sensitive places, we will know how to avoid hurting our spouse (and stop thinking of him or her as "oversensitive"), and we will be able to care for our mate in the way that he or she needs.

Different insecurities lead to different emotional needs.

As my eyes were opened to these gender differences, the biggest change in my marriage was that I began to give Jeff what he needed emotionally, rather than what I would need emotionally. I learned that Jeff's greatest need was to know that I appreciated and respected him — even more than he needed to feel that I loved him.
Most men constantly question how others view them, so they are filled up by knowing that their wife has noticed what they do. Saying "thank you" or "great job" to a guy in the little things of life is the equivalent of a dozen roses to a girl. "Thank you for taking the kids all weekend so I could go to the retreat! You're such a good dad. The kids will forever remember the adventure of getting doughnuts in their PJs."
On the other side of the gender divide, men may know that women need to feel loved, but they don't always realize that because of their unique inner doubt, women need to be reassured of their man's loveevery day. Men are often shocked to learn that 82 percent of women are deeply pleased by simple actions like a husband reaching out to take his wife's hand or texting a simple note like, "I'm just thinking about you." Why? Because it says, "Yes, you're lovable . . . and I would choose you all over again."

Different brain wiring means different ways of communicating.

For many skeptics, the biggest proof of gender differences can be found in brain science that shows men and women have different "wiring." The female brain is wired to think things through externally,so women process by talking. The male brain is structured to think things through internally, so men find it difficult to process through conversation.
This wiring difference is most obvious in a marriage when there's conflict. When Jeff and I were at odds, we often found that he most wanted space when I most wanted a hug. In my hurt, I assumed that his desire to get away from me meant he didn't care and wanted to avoid communication. But Jeff did care — he just needed to communicate differently than I did. Most men need to pull away from emotional situations to figure out what they're thinking and feeling so they can talk about it later.
Because women process emotions by talking, what a wife least needs is a quick solution because that would cut off her processing. For her, those troubling feelings are what she most needs to talk through, and a man will be his wife's hero if he will draw out those feelings so she can talk about them.

Different sexual wiring means different approaches in the bedroom.

In no other area of the marriage relationship do gender differences create as many opportunities for misunderstanding as in the bedroom. The physical differences between male and female should remind us all that when it comes to physical intimacy, we're simply not the same.
Women should understand that for most men, sex isn't just a physical need; it's primarily an emotional one. A husband needs to know that his wife desires him. That affirmation gives a man a sense of well-being that carries over into every other area of his life. Conversely, if he feels it's a little too easy for his wife to say, "I'm too tired," he has a depressing sense that he must be undesirable.
But in most cases, a husband can avoid that painful feeling by approaching his wife in the way that she needs — instead of expecting a response that he thinks she should have if she really desired him. Where testosterone gives most men a desire to pursue sex and be ready at a moment's notice, women still need anticipation time. A wife also needs to feel close to her husband outside the bedroom, so letting her know in advance what he has on his mind will help her to become physically excited.
There are certainly exceptions to these generalizations. But working with male/female differences, rather than against them, can definitely help couples live happily in sync in many areas of married life. Today, Jeff and I have an incredible marriage. Not perfect, of course, but in spite of our differences, we love being married to each other.
Shaunti Feldhahn is a social researcher, speaker and author of The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages.
This article appeared in the August/September 2014 issue of Focus on the Family's Thriving Family magazine
For more great marriage material, subscribe to Thriving Family, a faith-based marriage and parenting magazine!

Playboy’s Big News is Not What You Think it is

Playboy’s Big News is Not What You Think it is

Playboy has some big news and it may not be what you’re thinking. Next March, Playboy magazine will no longer carry nude photos. The New York Times shared, “the print edition of Playboy will still feature women in provocative poses. But they will no longer be fully nude.”
The easy access to pornography and nudity online has been Playboy’s fiercest competitor and the internet seem to have won this battle, at least for now. But this is not a win for Christians or conservatives by any means.
As Time wrote, “In the battle for hearts and minds, porn has won. It is now as exotic as chewing gum and just as ubiquitous on main street as gum is on sidewalks.”
Pornography is cheap and free, easily accessed and just a click away. A magazine simply cannot keep up with what the internet has to offer. The magazine has lost their shock value.
The Atlantic wrote, “The move was approved last month by Hugh Hefner, the magazine’s legendary founder and editor in chief, but it has been one that has been a long time coming. First, pornography is widely available—and easily accessible—online, making the efforts of generations of pubescent boys to clandestinely acquire copies of Playboy and magazines like it seem positively antiquated. Second, changing cultural norms have made such magazines seem exploitative of women.”
Don’t be confused, Playboy isn’t concerned about the exploitation of women, they are concerned with their numbers.
Here’s what The New York Times stated, “Playboy’s circulation has dropped from 5.6 million in 1975 to about 800,000 now, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. Many of the magazines that followed it have disappeared. Though detailed figures are not kept for adult magazines, many of those that remain exist in severely diminished form, available mostly in specialist stores. Penthouse, perhaps the most famous Playboy competitor, responded to the threat from digital pornography by turning even more explicit. It never recovered. …
In August of last year, its website dispensed with nudity. As a result, Playboy executives said, the average age of its reader dropped from 47 to just over 30, and its web traffic jumped to about 16 million from about four million unique users per month.”
This is where the concern lies for many. The change means more users and more users starting younger. Pornography is vicious. Could this be paving the way for porn to be more socially acceptable? There are models and porn stars who are legitimately hired, but there are so many more women and children who are trafficked, kidnapped, tricked and turned into sex slaves for the porn industry. Pornography is a form of sex trafficking.
This news is something every church leaders should be aware of. Our culture is more desensitized to porn than ever. Porn dehumanized people and cheapens sexuality.
We need to have honest and brave conversations about God’s vision and purpose for sexuality and we need to have those conversations early?
“Don’t get me wrong,” said Cory Jones, chief content officer of Playboy, “12-year-old me is very disappointed in current me. But it’s the right thing to do.”
Here is some top ChurchLeaders’ content on fighting pornography:
Think a Little Porn Is Harmless? This Is Guaranteed to Change Your Mind. Warning: You Can’t Unwatch This
5 Things I Want to Tell My Teenage Sons About Porn
7 Surprising (and Negative) Effects of Porn
John Piper: No One Is Absolutely Addicted to Pornography

Two Predictors of Divorce—How They Affect Your Love, Life and Ministry

Two Predictors of Divorce—How They Affect Your Love, Life and Ministry

couple (1)
In 1950, there were 30,870 divorces. In 2012, there were 118,140. Sadly, that number continues to grow. Why do some marriages work and some don’t?
Psychologists John and Julie Gottman, set out to answer that question. After years of research and observation, their team can accurately place couples into one of two categories: “disasters” or “masters”.
There were just two elements that separated the disasters from the masters. Any guesses?
The two deal-breakers are kindness and generosity.
You can identify kindness and generosity by how often you “turn-towards bids”. Bids are “requests for connection.”
Here’s how The Atlantic describes Gottman’s findings:
“Throughout the day, partners would make requests for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife—a sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird.”
Every person who has received this invitation to connect has a choice. Will you turn toward your spouse and engage or will you not respond or give a minimal response? Your answer could save your marriage.
Gottman said, “The couples who were still together after six years had “turn-toward bids” 87 percent of the time. Nine times out of ten, they were meeting their partner’s emotional needs.”
Couples who respond with any degree of hostility were less likely to live happily ever after.
“By observing these types of interactions, Gottman can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples—straight or gay, rich or poor, childless or not—will be broken up, together and unhappy, or together and happy several years later. Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity; or contempt, criticism, and hostility?”
“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman explained in an interview, “which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”
“It’s not just scanning environment,” chimed in Julie Gottman. “It’s scanning the partner for what the partner is doing right or scanning him for what he’s doing wrong and criticizing versus respecting him and expressing appreciation.”
Contempt drives couples apart. A focus on criticism will cause a person to miss half of the positive things about their spouse. This negativity will cause the receiver to feel unwanted and not valued.
Kindness leads to love, generosity and deeper friendship. The Atlantic notes, “Research independent from theirs has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved.”
The Gottmans describe kindness as a muscle that needs to be exercised and strengthened.
“Kindness doesn’t mean that we don’t express our anger,” Julie Gottman explained, “but the kindness informs how we choose to express the anger. You can throw spears at your partner. Or you can explain why you’re hurt and angry, and that’s the kinder path.”
No matter how busy or chaotic life gets, don’t let kindness and generosity breakdown. Build it up, strengthen it and exercise it.
How can you love, lead and serve from a place of kindness and generosity?
How would exercising kindness and generosity change your marriage, family, work or ministry?
How would teaching others to strengthen their “kindness muscle” change your community, church or workplace?
It was and is the Father’s loving kindness that saved us.
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Titus 3:4-7
How can we consistently extend the Father’s love and kindness to others?
I love King David’s eager quest to show kindness on behalf of Jonathan. Whose friendship do you value so much that you would jump to pour kindness into someone simply because they are connected to that friend? It is beautiful and rare.
Watch for David’s kindness in 2 Samuel 9 as he bestows favor on Jonathan’s son who was crippled:
And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” … And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.” And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.”
Then the king called Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s grandson. … So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons.
This is a stunning example of God’s kindness. Who has a seat at your table, not because it was earned, but because of kindness?
What does a ministry of kindness look like? We want to hear from you!

Two Hundred Questions a Day


Two Hundred Questions a Day

Childlike faith keeps probing, sometimes impolitely. /
Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3)
Before I had kids of my own, this passage often conjured images of Precious Moments figurines or a calendar of baby pictures. Sometimes we read this verse and think Jesus meant that to encounter the kingdom, we must reduce our spiritual lives to simple recitations of faith and embrace the unquestioning trust of a child. But ever since my first child was born five years ago, she has served as an iconoclast to that interpretation. An informal estimate put a child’s questions above 200 a day—to one parent alone. It goes without saying: “unquestioning” is the last word most parents would use to describe their children.
“Did God love Goliath?” my daughter once asked. This one question forays into the heart of many centuries-long theological debates. In just four words, it touches on human value, the use of violence, God’s sovereignty. As my daughter encounters God’s unconditional love, she has endless questions of what, exactly, that could mean. If his love really is a “wonderful, never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love” (as The Jesus Storybook Bible says), then a million questions follow. For my daughter, one big question is, “How did Jesus feel when Gaston died in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast?”

Not just sponges

Child psychiatrist Robert Coles reported that of all his endeavors, studying the spiritual lives of children was the most difficult to find support for. After 30 years of work with children, he had written books on politics, morality, fear, and resilience in the lives of children, but struggled to secure funding for qualitative research on children’s spirituality. Eventually, he found it, and published The Spiritual Life of Children in 1990.
The Spiritual Life of Children confirms one widespread assumption: children’s beliefs usually reflect their parents’ and or church leaders’ beliefs as they understand them. Children also connect their behavior to God’s relationship with them. An 8-year-old girl announced, “Daddy said each person can have a visit from God. He’ll be smiling or he’ll be sad—it’s up to you.” A boy informed Coles that each week, the priest reminds his low-income community that “Jesus loved the poor.” The boy added, “My mamma says there has to be some advantage to being poor!” Coles’s work also demonstrates how children look to parents to see what God is like. One girl was fixated on Jesus’ clearing of the temple, and whether or not he often became so angry. In time, Coles learned that the importance of the story was related to the domestic violence in this child’s home, a result of her father’s uncontrolled anger. She wondered, as many children do, whether her parents were trustworthy representations of God.
But Coles shows that children do a lot of theology work themselves, too—usually in the form of questions. One child asserted that God decides when we are born and when we die, and another child responded, “But how does he decide?” Another asked, “Do you think God gets rained on?” A fourth-grader reflected on the truth that God created all people: “A lot of them aren’t so nice, and he’s nice, so why did he do it?” Contemplating the trouble in the world, one boy even had the audacity to ask, “What has he [Jesus] been doing since he died and left?” As I read, I resonate with these children as they struggle with the problem of evil, even inside the walls of an elementary school.

Questions about and questions to

When we grow up, we start to avoid our own questions. We want to appear to have all the answers, to be theologically sound. Or perhaps, we think, our questions might make others uncomfortable. Asking questions might seem disrespectful to God, even spiteful or ungrateful. Maybe questions could discourage others’ faith. And sometimes, we’re afraid to admit, we’re worried about those questions seeming doubtful because we actually are doubtful.
After a morning of theological discussion with Coles, one girl came back from lunch and asked, “Do you think God heard us talk here this morning?” He replied, “I hope so,” and all the children enthusiastically agreed. In that moment, this child turned the discussion about God into a conversation with God—a prayer, in which she presumed he could handle listening to any questions that arise.
All these questions—the ones recorded in The Spiritual Life of Children and the ones my own kids ask me—are how children strive to get to know the God they hear so much about. Children are not yet scholars or theologians, at least not by our usual definitions of those terms. But they are certainly pilgrims, as Coles calls them, authentically seeking God. Like the children who once ran up to Jesus, the children in our lives stumble along toward him without pretense, unconcerned by the religious protocol we might assume as adults. They trust that he will accept and embrace them, whether or not they use the right words or ask the wrong questions.
Maybe “childlike faith” isn’t about being “unquestioning,” after all. Maybe it’s just the opposite, doing just as my daughter does: asking any and all questions that come to mind, without hesitation or equivocation, trusting that our Heavenly Father will listen.
Krispin Mayfield, a counselor living in Minneapolis, earlier wrote for The Behemoth about “The Shalom of Neurochemistry.”

Senin, 21 Desember 2015

Aim to be Faithful, Not Famous

Aim to be Faithful, Not Famous

Crown of thorns
by Jamaal Williams
When I was an undergraduate in college, I remember standing next to an inspiring preacher one early afternoon in the lobby of a hotel where a significant collegiate conference was taking place. Suddenly a beautiful vehicle pulled up to the front door with a relatively well-known speaker in the back seat. At that moment the inspiring young preacher looked up at me and said something to this effect: “ One day, I’m going to pull up to a conference like him, and there are going to be droves of people waiting for me and wanting to meet me.” Shocked by his forthrightness, I remained silent and walked away.
Sadly, in today’s time the desire and temptation to be famous has infiltrated many seminary classrooms and pulpits across America. Admittedly, if not checked, this can live inside my own chest and flow through my own veins. I recognize that this desire must be immediately crucified or one’s ministry will be plastic instead of steel, self-aggrandizing rather than God-glorifying. Being a pastor has many temptations and pitfalls. Striving to be a famous pastor ensures that you will fall into one. Here are three reasons why we should strive to be faithful, not famous, pastors:
First, if we strive to be famous, we miss the heart of our call as pastors.
A pastor’s job is to preach, pray, and provide oversight for the body of Christ (Acts 6:4, 1Tim 3-4). When we idolize the amount of social media followers we have, or the look in people’s eye when we arrive at an engagement, our heart will simply lust and desire for more and more. This is the message of the book of Ecclesiastes; that the more we drink from the world’s fountain, the thirstier we are. It’s an empty attempt, like striving after the wind. Seeking satisfaction in anything other than Jesus brings more thirst and eventually terminal dehydration.
Second, if we strive to be famous, we set ourselves up to peddle God’s word.
In 1 Corinthians 1:16, the Apostle Paul writes: “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word.” Now, just like then, there are so many who peddle God’s word. If what drives us is the desire to be thought well of by others, then we set ourselves up for a troubled eternity. Jesus said, in Luke 6:26, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” Like Demas (2 Tim 3:10), we can quickly find ourselves enthralled with the world because of the fear and love of the things of the world. Let us remember that Jesus was a great and famous preacher whose audience grew and shrunk based on his preaching calendar. If being famous comes at the expense of preaching truth, then we’ve sold out.
Third, if we strive to be famous, we won’t have the mind of Christ (Phillipians 2:5-11, Mark 10:35-45).
If we read our Bibles without being absolutely stunned and mesmerized with the incarnation of Jesus, and His humility and servitude, then our souls are in trouble. Jesus was and is the greatest Servant. It was Christ who forgave our sins and refused to interrupt God’s plan because of His own personal pain and the shame He would endure for us; He alone deserves glory. Let us give the praise that we may receive from others to Him, knowing that He alone is worthy of it.
We don’t have to wonder what Jesus drove to speaking engagements. The scriptures tell us that He didn’t have a problem riding on a mule. Although it was to shouts of “Hosanna,” He knew that those screams would soon be muted and replaced by demands for crucifixion. Jesus accepted both praise and denial with the same weight because His identity rested not in what lowly men thought, but in what His eternal Father had said about Him.
As pastors, our identity must be anchored in Christ, or the focus of our lives will become us and not the gospel. Being famous in God’s eyes looks different and is better than being famous in the eyes of men. Let’s treasure this truth and long to hear the Father say “good and faithful servant, (not famous servant) well done.”

How Should the Church Talk About Gun Rights, Racism, Same-Sex Marriage & Abortion?

“Tolerance isn’t about not having beliefs. It’s about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you.” —Tim Keller
The way we talk about today’s toughest issues will say a lot about our view of the Gospel, the church and our mission in the world.
Because our words shape our culture.
I’m grieved by the way the church reacts to hot-button issues in our country at times—pushing forward in anger and unbridled passion with little thought for the Gospel. I’m guilty too. I’ve posted knee-jerk reactions on Facebook, gossiped about people who don’t think like I do and carried my arrogant views around like a Boy Scout badge.
I’m not proud of it.
However, I’m desperately trying to craft a humble response—praying and thinking deeply—about some of the biggest issues in our culture. These issues are in the news every single day and the way we respond to them matters deeply.
I’ve put together a short primer on four major issues—with what I think is a common dangerous response and a helpful one. The dangerous response is the extreme version, but it gets the point across. You’ve probably heard similar versions from people in your church (or on social media). I’ve made an effort to craft a healthy response as well. It’s not meant to serve as a defense of the issue, but a quick sound bite that captures the compassion, grace and gospel-focused intelligence I believe is necessary for the church to engage the world. It’s just a brief discussion starter to help church leaders create a conversation around these issues.
Feel free to add your helpful response to one of these issues in the comment section below—even if you disagree.

Gun Rights

Dangerous response:
I’ve got my rights and no one can take them away (waving gun like a flag). Don’t tell me what to do. Owning a gun is my American right! You’ll have to pry this gun from my cold dead hands before you get it.
Helpful response:
Our culture has a problem with violence, and guns are part of that problem. We should find ways to limit gun ownership based on mental health and safety concerns while allowing gun ownership for responsible individuals. Getting rid of guns is not the answer to all the violence, but if it reduces the occurrence of school shootings that’s a positive move in the right direction.

Same-Sex Marriage

Dangerous Response:
Homosexuals are wicked and dangerous and should be stoned! They’re ruining our country and marriage. They have one agenda and that’s to tear down the church.
Helpful response:
The Bible is clear when it comes to homosexuality. It’s a sin. The Bible is the reason why I don’t support same-sex marriage. The Gospel is the answer to this issue—not hate, angry Facebook statuses or protests. Also, many people who are living this lifestyle are compassionate and loving people who need Jesus, just like me. I pray and confess my own sin and hypocrisy just as often as I pray for people in the homosexual lifestyle to find Jesus. When it comes down to it—we all need the Gospel.


Dangerous response:
I’m not a racist! All this talk about racism is silly. Slavery was banned decades ago. Why can’t everyone just get over it?
Helpful response:
Racism is real. I may not feel the effects, but many people live with a different reality than the one I’m aware of. I am praying for peace in my city and in our country because it’s still fractured by sin. One of the results of sin is pride, which leads to racism, which leads to anger, at times violence, and brokenness. The answer to racism is the Gospel. We need the church to be light in our cities, to shine with the brilliance and love of Jesus regardless of color, socioeconomic background or gender.


Dangerous response:
Anyone who has an abortion is a murderer! If you believe in a woman’s right to choose—you’re as good as the devil! If you’re a feminist, you’re a liberal baby killer and I want nothing to do with you.
Helpful response:
The fact that our country approves of abortion grieves me like nothing else. Also, the fact that unwed mothers are encouraged to get rid of a life for convenience is a tragedy. I’m praying for this senseless killing to stop and laws to be radically changed. I’m praying for the church to stand in the gap and provide the care, compassion and community young mothers need—as they choose life. I’m also working to shine a light on adoption—praying the church will show up during this crisis. No, I don’t believe in a woman’s right to choose between life and death, because I believe her body is God’s, not her own, and her baby is made in the image of God. I understand the fact that that sounds ridiculous to someone who wants to live autonomous from God’s Word, but I still believe it with all of my heart. Also, I have great compassion for women who’ve gone through an abortion. I believe Christ desires to extend them grace, healing and hope.
How do you talk about these issues? I’d love to hear your perspective. 

12 Truthful Marriage Vows You Won’t Hear at a Wedding

12 Truthful Marriage Vows You Won’t Hear at a Wedding

“In a culture that idolizes romantic love, we don’t need any more Shakespearean vows. We need vows that will shape and impact marriages.”
It’s been six years since Tiffani and I exchanged vows. Like most soon-to-be-married couples, we had an idea of what marriage would look like. We watched “chick flicks,” read a few marriage books and spent time with older married couples.
Looking back, I realize I didn’t know much at all about marriage. The words I promised Tiffani at our wedding were idealistic and romantic. This isn’t much different from the traditional vows you hear at most weddings. “To have and hold, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”
There’s nothing wrong with these vows. But, seriously. Who really understands what they mean?
I know what you’re thinking. Why do marriage vows matter?
Here’s why. Vows are promises. But not just any promises. Vows are markers that guide your marriage. So, while I’m not against writing vows Casanova would applaud, I am against vows that are more romantic and emotional than practical and honest.
In a culture that idolizes romantic love, we don’t need any more Shakespearean vows. We need vows that will shape and impact marriages.
Here are 12 truthful marriage vows you won’t hear at a wedding.

1.) I promise to never flirt, lust or desire the attention of someone of the opposite sex. 

When you get married, you vow faithfulness to your spouse. You vow exclusivity to them. You promise to never flirt, lust or seek attention from the opposite sex. You promise to protect your mind from images that aren’t your spouse.
You don’t listen to music that degrades people. You don’t allow your eyes to view images or watch shows portraying people as objects and relationships as indispensable. These are obvious, right?
But when you vow exclusivity to your spouse, you vow more than physical purity. You vow emotional purity as well. You promise to never confide in a secretary at work or be flattered by someone of the opposite sex.
Emotional purity is much less obvious than physical purity, but it’s just as destructive. You must fight to give all of your emotions, your desire to impress, your attention, struggles, heartaches and everything in between to your spouse. These don’t belong to other people. Fight for purity, both physically and emotionally.

2.) I promise to never expect a 50/50 marriage. 

There’s no such thing as a 50/50 marriage.
You can’t keep score in a marriage. There’s no such thing as a 50/50 relationship. That’s a contract.
Give 100 percent of yourself every day. Some days, 100 percent won’t be much. But on those days, trust your spouse will pick you up. Regardless, let go of this give-and-take idea.
Just give. Giving is the essence of love and the heart of the one who created marriage, God.

3.) I promise to make the gospel the mission of our marriage.

Most marriages struggle because the relationship is the end goal. The mission of most marriages is to provide stability to your life, to have a family, to have a companion. Get the idea?
But God created marriage, and because he created it, the goal is larger than selfish desires. The goal is to glorify him. Even in Christian circles, few couples make the gospel the mission of their marriage. And this explains why Paul said it was better NOT to marry (1 Cor. 7). Your interest would be divided between your spouse and God.
Your mission on earth is to serve God. Every day. This mission doesn’t change when you get married. But if you’re not intentional, pleasing your spouse will take precedent over serving God.

4.) I promise to love who you are today, not who I want you to be.

For the sake of your sanity and your marriage, please listen. You can’t change your spouse. You don’t have that power.
If this is your goal, two varmints will infest your relationship: bitterness and resentment.
For years, Tiffani and I tried to change each other. It wasn’t until we stopped trying to change each other and started enjoying one another that we experienced intimacy.
One of the profound mysteries of marriage is two people with different values learning to love, flourish and celebrate one another. It’s not easy, but that’s why you must rely on God and embrace the unique values He places in every person, including your spouse.
This sounds overly simplistic because it is … just love the person in front of you. Don’t long for a “fixed” version of your spouse. Don’t hope for a day when your spouse changes. Just love the current version of your partner. Doing this will transform your marriage.

5.) I promise you will never be responsible for my happiness.

Marriage isn’t a quest to find happiness or completion. God created you complete. You must learn to love yourself before trying to receive or extend love.
When another person is responsible for your happiness, you idolize that person. You obsess over everything. You check Facebook profiles, text messages and missed calls. It’s a miserable way to live. It’s a terrible recipe for a quality relationship.
Be confident in the man or woman God created you to be. Then you will be free to love your spouse the way God intended.

6.) I promise to make my expectations clear.

This was probably the greatest barrier in my marriage the first few years. Tiffani and I had expectations that influenced our decisions and shaped our understanding of marriage.
Tiffani’s expectations for me were influenced by her dad. Tiffani has an amazing dad. I respect him. I’ve learned a lot from him. But I’m not Tiffani’s dad. Likewise, my expectations for Tiffani were shaped by my mom. I have an amazing mom. But it’s unfair to expect Tiffani to respond the way my mom responded. And these unrealistic expectations created a lot of disappointments.
Your spouse should never endure disappointments as a result of ignorance. State your expectations clearly. All of them. Be thorough. What do you expect from a wife? A husband? What does marriage look like to you? What does sex look like?
If you can’t state your expectations, either because you don’t know them or you’re too shy to say them, it’s a red flag that you aren’t ready for marriage.

7.) I promise to never say “I forgive you” unless I truly mean it. 

Your spouse will hurt you and vice-versa. When this happens, search your heart, seek God and forgive your spouse the same way God forgives you.
Don’t forgive with conditions. Don’t say “I forgive you” when you’re really storing your spouse’s mistake to use as ammo in a future argument.
Unless you forgive the way God forgives you, completely and unconditionally, a wall will grow taller and taller in your relationship. Eventually, bitterness and resentment will make intimacy impossible, and your marriage will be nothing more than two roommates living under the same roof.

8.) I promise to be FOR you, to encourage your dreams, to help you become the man or woman God created you to be.

Many days you won’t feel like being for your spouse. But you must be for your partner if you want your marriage to grow. What does this look like? Here are a few examples.
1. You pray for your spouse.
2. You affirm your spouse’s strengths and gifts.
3. You focus more on the positive aspects of your spouse’s personality and actions than the negative ones.
4. You help your spouse pursue his or her dreams and talents.
5. You make your relationship a safe place for hard questions and deep conversations.
When you are for your spouse they open up like a flower, stepping into their relationships, workplace, etc. with boldness and courage. Is your spouse living with boldness and courage?

9.) I promise to never complain about our marriage, in general, or you, in particular, to others.

God created marriage to be a private relationship between two people. In the social media era, virtually everything is available to the public. Privacy is viewed as stinginess, almost as though six billion people are entitled to full access of your life.
Don’t buy the lie.
Your marriage is private. When you fight, your girlfriends don’t need to hear your husband is a jerk. Your homeboys don’t need to hear that your wife is irrational and ridiculous. No one, other than your spouse, should know intimate details about your sex life.
Don’t publicize a relationship God designed to be private.

10.) I promise to believe the best is yet to come, regardless of how good or bad things are today.

Regardless of the circumstances in your marriage, never spend more time looking in the rear-view mirror than the windshield. You must always believe the best is yet to come.
Why? God is a futurist.
He always leads people toward the future, toward the unknown. This forward movement is rooted in hope. Hope that the unknown is better than the known because God forges the path.
But here’s the lie our world says: Future circumstances are tied to current actions. So, if your marriage is miserable right now, it won’t get better in the future. But the future isn’t dependent on external actions. It’s dependent on internal perspective.
In other words, you must choose to believe tomorrow will be better than today. If you choose this, it will be true, regardless of the actions of your spouse.

11.) I promise to protect our marriage from outside influences, including kids, work and in-laws.

Marriage is about intimacy, and intimacy requires time and exclusivity. Here’s what this means practically. You must learn to say no. Go ahead and practice now.
Dr. Henry Cloud, in his book Boundaries in Marriage, says, “A marriage is only as strong as what it costs to protect it.”
Saying yes to outside influences means saying no to your marriage. You will hurt people’s feelings. Your parents won’t understand. They might even call you selfish. Your golf game might take a hit. Your friends will send you passive-aggressive text messages because you aren’t spending time with them. Your co-workers might think you’re uncommitted because you choose to spend a night with your spouse instead of working late on a project. Unfortunately, even your church might make off-hand comments.
I’m giving you a heads up because these are the costs you must take to protect your marriage. If you don’t do this, your marriage will fail. And, trust me, it’s much easier to implement this vow on day 1 of your marriage than several years in.

12.) I promise to surround our marriage with a community of Christians who will encourage and support us.

I’m going to be real here. At some point, you will want to give up. I know what you’re thinking. “Not me. I would never leave my spouse.”
That’s real sweet and all, but you’re naive.
Marriage is crazy hard. Eventually, your spouse will wound you deeply, you will lose the will to invest in your relationship, or you will come to the realization that marriage is more work than you signed up for.
When this season comes, the line between giving up and pressing forward will be drawn by your community. If your community caters to your ego and feeds your “woe is me” attitude, the line will be easy to cross. If you aren’t plugged into a local church, doing life with a group of Christians, the line will be easier to cross. If, however, you surround your marriage with a community of Christians who are for you, the line will be much harder to cross.
The presence of Christian community is so important that I ask those attending weddings I perform to make vows to the couple being married. After the couple’s vows, the audience stands. Then I ask them two questions.
  1. ________ (couple being married) have asked for your prayers and support as they begin marriage together. Do you pledge to pray for them as they work on building a deep and abiding love? 
  2.  ________ (couple being married) will need determination and patience to cultivate their love for one another. Do you pledge to support them in every way as they build a Christ-centered marriage?
After each question, the audience responds with “We will.” It’s powerful to see the crowd looking at the couple, vowing to pray for and support them.
For too long, wedding vows have focused on emotional, romantic love and not practical, solid pillars. You probably won’t hear these vows at any wedding you attend. But they’re essential for building a marriage that lasts.
Six years of marriage taught me one thing. Marriage is the most difficult, rewarding, painful, joyous journey you will embark on. And when the storms of life come, a few well-structured, emotional sentences won’t do you any good. You need something more practical. More realistic. You need guardrails to keep you from running off the road.
To my wife: I love you so much. Thank you for challenging me to become a better man, husband, father and follower of Jesus. I love every day with you. I love every moment with you.

It’s your turn. What are some practical marriage vows you wish you would have said on your wedding day? Leave a comment below. 

I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!